Backyard Talk

Fracking’s Methane Problem

imagesIt doesn’t take too long to scroll through the CHEJ blog roll to find multiple examples of the negative health impacts of hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking. But, even if fracking could be done in a manner that did not pollute and negatively impact the lives of some of America’s most vulnerable citizens, there is another very important reason why fracking may not be the energy solution that many of our leaders believe it is.
First, let’s take a step back and quickly discuss a major reason why fracking has been a focal point in our energy strategy over the last decade, climate change. Because hydraulic fracturing allows energy producers to access natural gas sources, mostly made up of methane, natural gas has the capacity to mitigate climate change. This is due to the fact that, when burned as a fuel, natural gas produces about half as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as coal. This has led many, including Obama, to adopt the strategy of using natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to replace the most carbon-intense sources, such as coal, while renewable technology, such as wind and solar become cheap enough to use on a grand scale.
Even if we ignore the poor record of pollution and injustice associated with fracking, there is another huge hurdle in this “bridge fuel” plan. There is a significant portion of fracked natural gas that is not being burned as fuel and is being released directly into the atmosphere as methane, a greenhouse gas that is over 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This methane is often leaked into the atmosphere during the extraction process. Even with a minimal leakage rate, there is the potential that methane emissions are offsetting the climate benefits of natural gas and using the fuel could actually be worse for the climate than coal. This is particularly troubling, as it would mean a total failure of America’s climate change mitigation strategy over the last eight years.
Currently, the EPA reports very small leakage rates that are based on industry data. With this data, fracking might still pass this very important test. The only problem is that multiple studies have been produced just in the last five years that report much higher leakage rates and spell disaster for our climate as a result. A recent study by Harvard researchers reports leakage rates much higher than EPA numbers, and a 30 percent increase in methane emissions from 2002-2014.
Considering this troubling data about methane emission, not to mention the public health impacts of fracking, maybe it is time to give up this bridge fuel plan and start utilizing renewables on a grand scale now. At the very least, let’s stop using the argument that fracking is good for climate change and have a more honest dialogue about our energy future.
Find out more about fracking’s methane problem.

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Funds, cleanups fewer

By Brendan Lyons of the Times Union. The usefulness of the EPA in cleaning up Superfund sites, a creation which often gets credited to Lois Gibbs and is a label for toxic waste removal as a government and corporate responsibility, is severely unfunded. Here’s a look at some of those repercussions. 
The 2002 chemical release would haunt the tiny village near Rochester for years. The accidental discharge at the Diaz Chemical plant showered contaminants on the residential neighborhood surrounding the facility, blanketing homes and playgrounds with potentially toxic substances.
A few months later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which would declare the plant a federal Superfund site, took over responsibility for relocating the occupants of eight homes who fled and refused to return to their residences. It took another nine years for the EPA to settle on a plan to fully clean up the site. Two weeks ago, workers finally began relocating a public water line that runs through the abandoned factory site in Orleans County.
“Anytime you have a time lag like we experienced, it’s always frustrating,” said John W. Kenney Jr., who was mayor of the village of Holley for 10 years beginning in 2006, and a village trustee for three years before that.
A 75-year-old who has lived in the village for more than 50 years, Kenney said it was frustrating that it took so long for the EPA to mobilize its cleanup plan and arrange for the eventual sale of the abandoned residences, which the EPA last week said is “being worked on in preparation to have the eight homes placed back on the real estate market.”
For the embattled EPA, the arguably slow response times to many environmental disasters — some of which cost hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up — may be tied to dwindling funding rather than a lack of urgency.

A trust fund that was set up when President Jimmy Carter signed the 1980 law establishing the federal Superfund program began to run short of cash in the 1990s. The decline came after Congress — and also President George W. Bush during his two terms — repeatedly declined to support renewing a federal tax previously imposed on petroleum and chemical companies, which are often blamed for the nation’s worst environmental disasters.
The “polluter pays” tax, as it’s sometimes called, expired in 1995 and was never restored despite urgings to Congress from every U.S. president since Carter — except the most recent Bush.
Without the money, many Democratic lawmakers say the EPA has been hobbled and fallen behind in its mission to clean up the nation’s most severely polluted sites. In a report to Congress last year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said that in 2013 roughly 39 million people — 13 percent of the U.S. population — lived within three miles of a federal Superfund site. The report said more than a third of those living near the sites were either under the age of 18 or were 65 years or older. The EPA’s Region 2, which includes New York, had the largest number of people — 10 million, or about one-third of the region’s population — living within a three-mile radius of a federal Superfund site.
Thanks to Brendan Lyons and the Times Union for sharing this story with us. 
If you’d like to read the original article, click here.